Commentary

Episode 702: 'A Day's Work' -- Or, The War Of The Roses

MadMens7e2aOne day, Don Draper sleeps past noon, crawls out of bed, and discovers that he’s a giant insect.

Oh, wait. That’s Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.”

This is Matt Weiner’s “Mad Men.” Same difference: both operate in a random, chaotic universe without any real sense of order or justice.

But because this is "MM," Don creeps out of bed, unshaven in his bathrobe, to his living room’s yummy black leather Eames lounger, where he smokes, eats Ritz crackers out of the box, marks his level of whiskey consumption on his Canadian Club bottle, and watches old black-and-white “Our Gang” comedy reruns on TV.

Then he spots a big bug marching around a corner in his apartment.  Indeed, his once enviable, snazzily decorated penthouse digs not only have an infestation problem, but are also looking a bit shabby, just like Don himself. He’s in limbo in all things.

s7e2bOn the work front especially, he is not one of the gang. To keep abreast of the SC&P news, he needs to “bug” the office in the form of having his former secretary, Dawn, report to him. She sets clear, ethical boundaries for delivering the intel to him, but Don (who gets dressed at 8 p.m. only to fool Dawn into thinking he has some discipline) keeps pushing them.

Some viewers are already complaining about the glacial pace in this, only the second episode of the 7th season. But cheer up, people! There’s an exciting new component -- miscommunication-- with large helpings of death.

And Weiner tends to yank our chains by making the first few episodes of a season a teasy (some find tedious) slow burn, as if he wants us to get fed up, and then have to eat our words later, when we get rewarded by one stunning shocker after another.

We do, in fact, get a stunning shocker at the end of this episode: two of the finest, most gratifying scenes ever written and acted between Don and his daughter Sally. More on that later.

s7e2cMeanwhile, miscommunication is the curse of death in a business that sells "communication" The center is not holding. Nor is the idea of racial integration, as ugly old beliefs flower right in the faces of Dawn and Shirley, the only employees of color, who jokingly exchange names because white people can’t tell them apart.

“Personnel” (and personal) issues are rearing their ugly heads. That’s why so many secretaries are in flux, carrying their possessions in boxes,  those ubiquitous symbols of the precariousness of the modern work world. (And a suggestion of a little coffin.)

And for an agency that prides itself on its new West Coast office, having the various parties in meetings screaming, “Hello, California!” and “Are you there, New York?” as if they were still in the age of Alexander Graham Bell, was pretty transparent, but also hilarious. 

Yup, misunderstanding was one of the major themes: Peggy and the flowers, Roger mistaken for a “kike” because he’s taken to wearing a dramatically throwback black homburg, Pete and his new piece of business, Sally going to Don’s office and finding Lou, etc.

So, here we are on Valentine's Day: a manufactured occasion at best, devoted to “love” -- but as shown here on Madison Ave, just another “day’s work” in the currency of lies and deception.

mad men s7e2Don takes lunch with a guy from Wells, Rich and Greene (who jokes that he could “have” Mary if he wanted her.) When his old acquaintance from McCann stops by (whom Don “turned down, twice”) Don tells him that he’s just “looking for love.” Meanwhile, Jim, the rising power at SC&P, scorns Don as a “collective ex-wife who still receives alimony.”

That cross-country phone conference was full of vulgar, old-style dirty jokes, thanks to Roger, about setting people up to get laid (as he excused his language to his secretary) and “mounting” a client.

Peggy is now a caricature of a harridan, a former secretary now treating her own secretary despicably, the way a “male chauvinist pig” of the time would. And her stock around the agency is as low as her droopy bowtie, “Are these symbols of how much we are loved?” Peggy asks, looking at Shirley’s long-stemmed red roses that she mistakenly assumes out of arrogance, desperation and entitlement are her own.

Two seasons ago, Peggy was the feminist hero we all rooted for, who made her own future without having to prostitute herself, unlike Joan. Now she’s a mess (understandably), getting no love from Lou Avery, the terminally uncurious, self-centered nightmare of a non-creative director.

Indeed, Peggy is the blue lady shown hauling the roses back and forth, like a bad farce. By contrast, Joan gets to take her yellow flowers upstairs to the executive floor, moved upstairs by Jim, who’s also acting on his ulterior motives. That makes way for a promotion for Dawn, which was also a thrill.

The red roses are part of an overall rouge theme graphically, with Joan’s outfit, Shirley’s (too short!) dress, and Sally’s hat. And they are also part of the death theme. Peggy says her office smells like “an Italian funeral.”

Mad Men s7e2Earlier, she compounded the misunderstanding of the roses, (The War of the Roses?) by sending an angry, cryptic message to Ted that seems right out of “Romeo and Juliet,” the ultimate romantic play, except that it’s not about the death of Mercutio, but another kind of loss: “They don’t want to hear any more pitches -- the business is gone.”

Not to get too heady about this Shakespeare analogy, but Mercutio does say "A pox on both your houses" (New York and L.A?) before he makes a pun about being a “grave” man and dies.

Of course, the whole plot hinges on the fact that Sally’s roommate Sarah’s mother died, and she was allowed to go to the funeral.

“I’d stay here till 1975 if that would put Betty in the ground,” Sally says, a great line in a scene that shows these prep school girls to be monstrously callous. Yet later Sally comes clean to her dad, that seeing the body was much more upsetting than she imagined. “I don’t want you going to funerals,” Don says.

Poor Sally. One of the MM’s master themes is, can Don can ever redeem himself in Sally’s eyes?  The other is, can Sally (always a victim of tragically bad timing), ever escape the trauma and damage of her childhood?

“I am so many people” she says to her dad during that exquisitely rendered diner scene. And by the way, they share some white lies. At the gas station diner, Sally asks Don if they even needed gas. By the same token, did Sally really lose her purse?

Kiernan Shipka, the actress who plays Sally, has been allowed to age naturally over the seasons. She is a true star, and her scenes with Jon Hamm are like a master class in acting. Meanwhile, the writing was pitch-perfect.

This isn’t the father/daughter relationship that we saw earlier in the clip of “That Girl.”  It starred a young Marlo Thomas, who herself had a famous father, Danny, who starred in “Make Room for Daddy." The show was groundbreaking in that the character was trying to be an independent actress in the city. But she has a “Daddy” in the suburbs who worries about her. Meanwhile, Sally is the adult in the daddy/child relationship for most of the episode. The other show on Don’s TV, by the way, was also an inspired choice. “Our Gang," was the story of an integrated set of poor urban waifs who make their way without the luxury of parents, reminding us of Don's childhood.

What Weiner is showing us is that things take time. At first, Don was so ashamed and guilty in the car that he started attacking Sally, and comparing her to her mother, “always laying in wait.”

But they were able to stay in it and thrash things out. Sally pointed out how deeply traumatic it is just to enter Don’s building, worrying that she’ll have to wait in the elevator with Sylvia, and “want to throw up from the smell of her hair spray.”

Don was finally able to hear that -- to think of the repercussions of all of his reprobate actions.

Slowly, he came clean once again about what happened at work. “ The reason I didn’t tell you I wasn’t working was because I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t behave well. I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time. I told the truth about myself. But it wasn’t the right time. So they made me take some time off. And I was ashamed.”

Sally also susses out the truth about Megan.

And post-patty melt, they get back to school, and she gives Don the only true rose and note of love in the entire episode: “Happy Valentine’s Day,” she says, unexpectedly adding, “I love you.”

Don seems gobsmacked. And I was verklempt.

Will Sally’s love give Don the nudge that he needs to get off the lounge chair -- and call in the exterminator? It’s a complex drama, and this was an amazingly tough but great episode.

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23 comments about "Episode 702: 'A Day's Work' -- Or, The War Of The Roses".
  1. Martin Kleinman from Communications Strategies , April 22, 2014 at 8:36 p.m.
    I see a further, if incremental, shifting of the tectonic plates with each new episode. On one side are the folks who will be relegated to the dinosaur scrap heap. On the other side are the folks who have the ability to adapt to the new world ecosystem. Some seem obvious (yeah, I'm talking to you, Roger). Others fooled me (Peggy? A dud in progressive disguise? Fooled me.) But what of Don Draper? I think he won't make it. And I think the writers will make it clear that the DD character KNOWS
  2. Martin Kleinman from Communications Strategies , April 22, 2014 at 8:36 p.m.
    KNOWS he won't make it.
  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 22, 2014 at 8:50 p.m.
    Yeah, Jim and his team seem the clear winners. I was wondering if word about Don has indeed made him damaged goods. Tho the stuff he's been Cyranoing with Freedy is brilliant. Don't know if there's room for him to do something different. Any guesses?
  4. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , April 22, 2014 at 9:07 p.m.
    I hadn't thought about flowers being both romantic and funereal. I had also missed Sally's line about being so many people. Her relationship with Don may be the most important one in his life, and his best chance for redemption. After this episode, I am feeling better about Don Draper. Glad he's come in off the freezing balcony.
  5. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC , April 22, 2014 at 9:16 p.m.
    We may be getting the "point" or "points," as Pete would say or said. Liked this episode even more than last week. First, Sally and Don or is it Don and Sally need each other. Peggy (That Girl) needs Don back and Lou isn't going to last in his job. The work isn't good. He demonstrated that he is now the "evil, old fashioned, out of touch" creative director making the office unworkable. He's not part of the SC&P "family." Too much politics, which every agency has both internally and with the clients and the creative decision-making. I did like the use of the word "contraption" for the speaker box. Just wait for cell/mobile phones. Everyone will be able to find Sally, Pete, Don, Meagan, Burt, oh my...Roger Looking for more love next week. Thanks, Barbara, you make it better every week.
  6. Jodi Bornstein from None , April 22, 2014 at 9:19 p.m.
    I was waiting for you to mention That Girl. Weren't we Sally's age when we watched that show? I now watch Mad Men with closed captions because I found I was missing way too much great dialogue. It is hard to predict where this is all going but so annoying that it is broken up into two mini seasons.
  7. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 22, 2014 at 9:39 p.m.
    The Sally/Don scenes were fantastic. It seems she will be his savior, just by bringing him to truth. If that means he doesn't make it in the agency business, it may also mean the tradeoff is he succeeds with people who matter, namely his daughter. Who wants to work with those kind of kind of people anyway (except Pete - I love his misery)? How about the music at the end? This will be our year. I've never seen a more hopeful ending to a Mad Men episode. It can't last.
  8. Dean Fox from ScreenAngels Networks LLC , April 22, 2014 at 9:53 p.m.
    The scenes at the agency so perfectly mirror my experiences as the business turned from groundbreaking creative disruption for the benefit of the clients' revenue numbers (Ogilvy, Bernbach), to rampant Machiavellian backstabbing for the benefit of the cunning-but-soulless corporate climbers (too many martini-guzzling cowards to call out). Ah, the good old days!
  9. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , April 23, 2014 at 9:05 a.m.
    In an episode dedicated to misunderstandings, I wonder if Don takes Sally's "I love you" to mean "I forgive you." Two different things, Don. Sally isn't going to put up with your act forever. Last season's final scene in front of Don's Best Little Whorehouse homestead may have helped her understand dear old dad a little better, may have even led to her "I love you." But it isn't carte blanche for Don to start up his old ways. As for Lou Avery, yeah, he's completely useless and the work will suffer for it. But do you really think the partners care about that? Look at their cowtowing to Chevy regarding Pete's new dealer account. Rake in the money, work be damned. Lou is perfect for that. Don is more trouble than he's worth, or so the partners think. One final misunderstanding there, I believe. When Jim says the agency is paying Don alimony, he's wrong; it's child support. And they can stop paying it when Don leaves home and goes out on his own. Olsen Campbell Draper (OCD). Like DDB, the main man is listed last, but we all know who will be in complete, obsessive control.
  10. Ruth Thomas from Second helping , April 23, 2014 at 10:04 a.m.
    i initially watched this episode when i was falling asleep Sunday- i didnt really like it--then i watched again with my husband the next day and saw it differently- But- reading your very insightful blog is like i put my glasses on and took the cotton out of my ears- it was so much deeper and richer than i thought- i know people wave away the act of TV watching as a waste of time- but some is well crafted art that provokes good discussion and thought process--the nuances about the colors...the thrown away lines that were so heavy with importance-it WAS a great episode!
  11. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 23, 2014 at 10:09 a.m.
    I've seen these stories in "real life". There are chunks of people whose lives bring back many memories. Bad attitudes all around. Don and Sally could become very codependent the rest of their lives with all kinds of interruptions and problems. Don gets through, maybe working on the client's side and getting bored, someone gives him a shot selling TV ads where he makes some easy money to stay with it for a while, maybe tries his hand at freelancing/own agency. His story behind the story ad telling is too long for a quicker paced more results oriented more quickly ad world than he is used to. Rodger doesn't get through past the 70's. Can't read your comments until I see the episode and saved it. You are THE best.
  12. Marcellina Kampa from mcgarrah/jessee , April 23, 2014 at 11:03 a.m.
    Barbara, your blog adds such depth to viewing the show. The lines of dialog happen so fast that it's easy to miss something, or misunderstand what the characters are saying. I love the relationship between Dawn and Sylvia...I did catch them calling each other their own names...and did someone refer to Dawn as "Nurse"? (a throwback to the TV show "Julia" perhaps?) I love how dignified Dawn remains as she's handling her dual bosses' personal crap...and Sylvia being a victim of Peggy's nasty meltdown. Really looking forward to see what happens to Dawn in her new role. I just love watching all the women's characters constantly evolving, moving, growing.
  13. mike sugimoto from pepperdine , April 23, 2014 at 11:45 a.m.
    LOVED this episode. Especially loved Pete's realtor/lover who rebuffs him for wanting to take the day off to console his misery for losing the Chevy account, by saying, "Our misfortunes are in others' hands," or something like that. Her hard realism was a thread for me in the show, as the misfortunes and fortunes of individuals who move up and down in their station in the agency rely on contingency. Dawn and Joan move up on a personal trajectory, not so much for their talents, but, respectively, due to racism and power move by Jim to further marginalize Roger? The complicated, hypocritical nature of liberal social mobility also gets explored, as the Peggy's white feminism conflicts with Sylvia's African-American status, in a darker, layered way when compared with Lou's one-dimensional white male jerkiness. In the end, Weiner seems to explore how layered we all are? The impressive, handsome DD is still that injured boy. Peggy is still that rejected, Catholic daughter. Maybe we don't move on in stages of maturity, but carry all our past lives and identities with us, ever snowballing into ever complex contradictions, or, as Sally put it, "I am so many people."
  14. Claudia Reilly from none , April 23, 2014 at 1:11 p.m.
    Another brilliant analysis of the show. I love the way you make me think about things I had noticed but had not pulled together on my own (the red colors, the TV shows, the Kafka-esque bug situation, the deaths, the brilliance of the young actress who plays Sally and how she offers Don the only true glimpse of love). Brava!
  15. Laurie Stone from self , April 23, 2014 at 1:24 p.m.
    Superb in every way. Many thanks for allowing me to relive it within your perspective. Laurie Stone
  16. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 23, 2014 at 3:15 p.m.
    Great comments, everyone. Thank you., I didn't have room to get into the whole Pete/Ms. Holly Paramour (or whatever her name is!) scenes. But the "love scene" in the office was very reminiscent of Don. And the scene in which Pete, unhappy about what happened with his "great whale" decides to give-up work and find Holly, shows him literally carrying a "For Sale" sign. His girlfriend sets him straight: that we all have to roll with "acts of god" and that's the fun part. He insists she leave early with him, and she tells him to go put the sign back. Also, one great detail-- I had forgotten that women in the 1960s often smelled of hair spray!
  17. Adrian Lichter from Adrian Lichter, Inc. , April 23, 2014 at 5:33 p.m.
    Lou referring to his secretary as a "girl" was very disturbing, not simply because she is African-American, but because that happens even today in some quarters.
  18. Maria Elgar from HARDTRIBE , April 23, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.
    i was wondering the same about sally's i love you to don indicating forgiveness understanding and new ground for their relationship. love the pox on both your houses references. clever "get"! i had totally missed everything about the bugs including the disheveled infested apt. peggy is a mess i so hope she gets it together. i had never been so angry at her. one last thing YES teenage girls are monsters!
  19. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc. , April 24, 2014 at 9:10 a.m.
    I was blind but now I see, thanks to you, Barbara. Excellent post-episode analysis, as always.
  20. Adrian Lichter from Adrian Lichter, Inc. , April 24, 2014 at 11:19 a.m.
    In case anyone was wondering, that Big Green Machine in Peggy's office is a Moviola, used to edit film until the early '80s. An agency would have one on-site to screen 35mm rough cuts and finished spots if they weren't at the editing house or didn't have a 35mm screening room. However, the one shown is configured for an editor, not an agency (the feeder and take-up reels are missing). The prop department probably didn't know that an old ad guy like me would notice.
  21. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion , April 24, 2014 at 12:01 p.m.
    Barbara, we were a cloud of hairspray. I once stood in a wind on Telegraph Hill and had so much hairspray on, nothing moved, although by 1969 I had stopped using it.
  22. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 24, 2014 at 8:22 p.m.
    You and everyone make me watch it again with open perspectives and it is better the second time. The additional comment-question I have - Did they still wear hats all the time in 1969, especially women ? I don't remember hats in the office or anywhere for the sake of wearing hats.
  23. Esther Dyson from EDventure , April 26, 2014 at 1:10 p.m.
    Kind of ironic: Is it Shirley or Sylvia?